ChatGPT’s rise has prompted a fierce debate about the impact of smart tech on the education system. Lisa Glover investigates
The dawning of artificial intelligence has presented the education sector with both a problem and an opportunity. ChatGPT, the advanced language model currently making waves across the globe, is at the heart of this debate. The software has gained both praise and notoriety around the world for its ability to craft coherent, detailed, and factually accurate text based on the data it’s been trained on.
However, its ability to spurt out well-informed copy at the click of a button has now raised serious concerns over students using it to plagiarise their schoolwork. The question is: could it revolutionise the classroom or irreversibly disrupt the very foundation of the learning process? Here, we examine both sides of the argument.
“AI is essential for a modern curriculum”
Conrad Wolfram, co-founder of WolframAlpha, an AI-powered search engine designed to answer any number of fact-based queries, sees AI as essential for a modern curriculum. He believes the focus shouldn’t be on whether students can misuse the software, but about reshaping how subjects, particularly maths, are taught.
“This is the real opportunity, and we now have great tools to deliver that. We need to step up now and learn computational literacy for the AI revolution.” Without the necessary literacy, Wolfram argues, we risk disenfranchising an entire generation from partaking in critical societal decisions. His vision is for a world where humans aren’t replaced by AI, but elevated by its capabilities.
AI poses “very real and present hazards”
Helen Pike, master of Magdalen College School in Oxford and a member of the Bourne-Epsom Protocol, a body designed to protect schools from the potential pitfalls of AI, is more cautious. So much so that in earlier this year, Pike and other senior figures in the UK education sector wrote an open letter to The Times, highlighting the ‘very real and present hazards and dangers’ posed by such technology.
Many parents and teachers are worried about the ease with which ChatGPT can write well-researched essays, plagiarise content and even answer exam questions on behalf of students. The fact that WolframAlpha used ChatGPT to sit a maths A-level exam and scored 96% is proof of its ability to perform student tasks to a high level.
A potential solution?
However, Pike isn’t calling for a blanket dismissal of AI, but rather for a more measured approach. She acknowledges AI’s potential advantages, especially in providing access to vast amounts of data, which can be invaluable for fields like science, but she stresses the ethical quandaries: “The main challenges are ethical and legal. [We need to] guide pupils on how to use and share data, and above all, how to ask the right questions.”
Pike’s argument is clear: while ChatGPT is a powerful tool, it should be seen as a complement to human teachers, not a replacement. “ChatGPT is reasonably good at the moment, but it’s nowhere near replacing a great teacher. It’s another tool, it works with us, not for us,” she says.